OMG, I can’t believe it’s April, and I can’t believe it’s already the second week! Yikes!
Before we get to the challenge, I just wanted to do a little bit of self-promotion. If you are a belly dancer in the Chicago area, you will want to take my new workshop! I’m offering a Lebanese-style workshop at Arabesque Dance Studio! If you are curious about Lebanese-style belly dance, please join us! It will be a fantastic workshop!
And now onto the challenge!
Slow it down
We’ve all been there: sweaty palms, nervous energy…rapid breathing. Gotta get this improv DOWN! You step out onto stage, blink in the bright lights, and then DANCEDANCEDANCEDANCEDANCEDANCE.
You leave the stage exhausted, wondering how you could possibly be so worn out after just a 3 minute song! Then you see the video and wondered if, rather than dancing…you’d had a fit. You’re exhausted just watching the video! I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve ALL done it. What happened? You over-danced your piece. It happens most often in improv, but it can also happen in choreographies. You find yourself ahead of the music, rushing through sections to get to the next, because you are so nervous/excited/about to throw up that you have to get through it to the end. In improv, you want to keep the piece interesting, so you do every single move you know, never repeating them, because that would be boring, right?!?! Wrong.
Let’s slow it down. Way down. Way, way, way down.
Dancing, especially belly dancing, shouldn’t be frantic (even up-beat, fast dancing should not be frantic). You exhaust your audience by never stopping, never pausing, and never seeming to enjoy the dance. If you frantic-dance, the audience can’t enjoy the music with you. And if you have a slow song, please, please, please don’t frantic-dance! It’s off-putting. I’ve seen dancers with beautiful technique beating a song to death with every move they know, done as fast as they can be done, but the song was slow, sultry, and intense. Yes, of course, music can be interpreted differently by each dancer, but a piece that is obviously slow tempo, with rich instruments like cello or with juicy rhythms like masmoudi or bolero, should not, in my opinion, be danced like someone set you on fire. Dancing is about the music. Sorry to disappoint you, but as belly dancers, it is our job to interpret the music for the audience, not show them every skill we know in as little time as we can manage.
So what’s the challenge?
Want a starting point? I’m going to shamelessly promote my friend Rosa Noreen’s “Delicious Pauses” DVD (I did a review of it here.) This is a MUST for dancers. It is more geared towards intermediate and advanced dancers, but a solid beginner with some moves under her coin scarf would also benefit from the instruction, and for future reference. I’m promoting it because it was partial inspiration for this challenge, and because it’s a fantastic DVD (and workshop!)
Beginner: You probably aren’t yet thinking about performing, but that’s okay. You still need to learn how to interpret music, whether it’s belly dance music or Tribal fusion music. Your challenge this week is to pick the slowest song you have. No, not that one. Go slower. Find something that absolutely plods, and then find something slower. Now take a combination you’ve learned, and slow it down to fit the song. Hopefully, your teacher has given you combos that are set out in nice, long sets of 8 counts (such as, hip drops for 8 counts, snake arms for 8 counts, then 8 more counts of snake arms as you walk in a tight circle…etc…) That’s what we want! Many dancers fall into the trap of thinking that doing 8, or 16, or even 32 counts of something is dull, and the audience will be like, “Uh, she’s been doing that forever now…can’t she do something else?” What feels like an eternity to dancer is rarely a long time in the song. A count of 8 is usually only a few seconds. So you’re only going to do a move for less than 30 seconds–maybe even less than 15 seconds–if you do it for 32 counts. Not very long!! Practice this every day. Find a slow song and practice a combo to it, even if it’s not the song you originally learned the combo for. Slow it down, be patient, and enjoy the movement.
Intermediate: Okay, you get to pick a nice slow song, too. Now pick a couple of juicy moves, like mayas or figure 8s, and dance them. Slowly. Slow it down even more. Are you doing a maya? Make the maya take 32 counts. This is hard stuff, so don’t get discouraged. It’s going to feel like you are standing still. It’s going to feel boring. But the point of this exercise is for you to understand that slow does NOT equal boring. It’s JUICY. And that’s lovely. That’s what we want. Your challenge is to pick a movement every day and see how slow you can get it. How juicy can you make it when it’s going to take all day to do it? Slow it down and enjoy it. Feel the move, feel how interesting it might be to an audience member who is now sitting on the edge of their seat wondering what you are going to do next! Take hints and tricks from Rosa’s DVD and make them yours!
Advanced: If you are improvising for audiences, you’ve probably made the mistake of over-dancing. This has been a particular challenge for me, especially since I love fast, up-beat songs. It’s horrifying to me to feel like I’m standing on stage doing nothing. But believe me, the power of standing on stage, with all eyes on you, watching you as you barely move an arm…it’s amazing (and how else are you going to get good pictures!!?!!). To have an audience waiting with baited breath for me to finish this juicy, lovely move before surprising them with something else fantastic…it’s super powerful. Dancing is emotion, and sometimes it’s not a happy one. Your challenge is to, this week, choreograph a slow song. Pick a few moves, and only a few, and do a whole song with them. Make those movements last, and find ways to make them interesting. Use your face, use emotion. What do you FEEL with this song, rather than what move can I do here? Again, I highly recommend taking cues from Rosa’s DVD to help you with this.
Let’s all slow it down, because dancing beautifully is our goal, not dancing frantically. And nothing else matters 😉